Saturday, April 26, 2014


 Chapter 13: The Envious

We reached the summit of the stair and stood
           upon the second terrace of the hill
           that heals its climbers. Here another road                                            3

wound round it by a sharper curve, a road
           empty of people, shadow, ornament,
           no colour but dull stone. The poet said,                                              6

“Waiting to ask the way will cause delay,”
            and turning right to face the sun he cried,
            “Sweet light of day I choose you as our guide,                                  9

until it’s obvious we’ve gone astray.”
           We strode so briskly to the right that soon
a mile was passed, and then toward us came                                      12

clear sentences, spoken by none we saw
           who sounded kind. “They have no wine,” came first,                       
           flew by us, went repeating on behind,                                                 15

fading, but not quite lost in distance when
           “I am Orestes,” followed it, and then                                               
           while I said, “Father, what do these words mean?”                            18

a third voice came: “Love those who injure you.”
           My kind guide said, “Envy is cut back here                                       
           by whips of love, which are its opposite.                                           21

More sounds like these will strike your ear, I think,
           before you leave this street, but look ahead.                                     
           See, at the cliff-foot many people sit.”                                                24

I, staring forward harder, could detect
           in robes coloured like stone on which they leaned                                    
           a mournful row, and nearer heard them groan:                               27

 “Pray for us, Mary”, “Peter”, “All the saints”,
           I do not think there walks on earth today                                              
          any so hard that pity would not pierce                                                30

  at sight of those I saw in so much pain.
            Each, wearing coarse grey hair-cloth, lay with head  
propped on a neighbour’s shoulder like the blind                  33 

paupers who beg beside confessionals.
            Tight iron wires stitched their eyelids shut.
            Ashamed to see and not be seen I turned                                           36

to my only counselor who advised,
            “Yes, question these, but use the fewest words.”
            He stood beside the road’s perilous edge                                           39

which had no parapet, facing the shades
            whose cheeks were wet with tears squeezed sorely through
            their eyelids’ horrid seam. I turned to them                                       42

and said, “You who are sure to see one day
            when consciousness and memory run clean,
            are there among you some Italian souls?                                            45

It may be good for such a one or two
            if I speak for you on the earth below.”
            “O brother, all of us are citizens                                                         48

of one great city. All Italians
            are pilgrims to it, and not only they.”
            These words came from a little further on.                                         51

I moved to where a small expectant face
            was tilted up.  “Spirit, if it was you,”
            I said, “who spoke, make yourself known by place                          54

or else by name.” “Sienna was my town,”
            said she, “and here I mourn my sinful life
            weeping to Him who gave Himself for us.                                         57

Named Sapia, although not sapient,
            failure in others more delighted me
            than my good luck. I was an old woman                                            60

when Sienna’s Tories fought Florentine Whigs.
            Seeing the faction that I hate retreat
            with mad delight I loudly swore to God,                                            63

‘Now I don’t fear you!’ as the blackbird sings
            at sight of briefest sunlight in the spring.
This blasphemy will be forgiven since                                               66

Peter, a saint who lived by selling combs.
            In charity both grieved and prayed for me.
            But who are you who ask about my state?                                        69 

You have I think, wide eyes and talk with breath.”
            I said, “My eyes will not be here for long.”
            Envy has never been my greatest sin.                                                 72

My fear is of the punishment for pride –
            I dread that crushing misery below,
but let me know what I can do for you                                              75

when I return to earth.” “How strange,” said she.
“God loves you, letting you go up and down.                                  
            Please pray for me sometimes, and tell my kin                                  78

if you pass through Siena, I am here.
They invest in schemes to renew old streams
and at Talemone build a new port                                                      81

to promote trade oversea, and the cost
will be private and public bankruptcy.
My family’s great fortune will be lost,                                              84

and hopeful admirals will lose the most.”






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